first flight

First Flight: The Autogyro Flies

 

I flew the autogyro! I don’t care about anything else at the moment, I finally flew my own autogyro. As an added bonus, I also managed to catch the flight on my RunCam. I honestly thought I was gyronauting for at least 30 seconds, but the video says it was only 10. It must be down to the number of control inputs I was having to put in, because this was one first flight which didn’t exactly go to plan. To begin at the beginning, I put bigger wheels on the Atom to increase my ground clearance and hopefully help the ground run build up rotor head speed. You can see the big foam tyres in the pictures. I must have spent the best part of an hour running along the ground with it doing exactly the same thing every time. There’s lots of video of that too so I can analyse it later. The aircraft runs straight initially, then veers off to the left as soon as the head gets to a certain speed. I tried altering the head angle (aileron) and rudder to counteract this, but to no avail. If I did get up enough ground speed for the head to spin fast enough to lift, then what would happen is that the right wheel and tail would lift, but the left wheel refused to unstick. I got very proficient at careering along the ground on just the left wheel and dragging the left fin, before crashing into the grass at the left edge of the runway. I just couldn’t get it to track straight and really need a fatter section of flat grass to take off from. The wind wasn’t helping either, because it was very thermic and the wind was from all directions during the morning, but never much more than about 5mph.

To cut a long story short, I hand launched it. One of the guys flying DLG had come over and suggested hand launching, but I was very reluctant, unless I could see the rotor spinning up to speed first. This is where I now owe the weather a favour. While I was discussing the YouTube video I had seen on how to hand launch an autogyro, the wind picked up, the rotor spun up to speed and I just looked at him and said, “that’s it”. With the autogyro’s nose pointing vertical, the rotors were spinning furiously in the wind, I did a control check, rotated it smoothly to horizontal and pushed it forwards. It flew. Well, I say it flew, for the next 10 seconds I had the sticks in all four corners in order to avert was was increasingly looking like a crash. I think my helicopter flying skills kicked in at this point, because that’s what I was doing, watching the rotor head, keeping away from the ground and trying to stay flat and nose down. Needless to say, the head was too far back and it was flying on a stall. Everybody thought it was going to crash, but I’m able to walk away with 10 seconds of autogyro flight, an undamaged aircraft and a lot more knowledge about autogyros. I can’t wait for next time.

Autogyros aside, it was a very eventful morning for other reasons, not least of which because the weather was perfect and there were more people and aircraft than I’ve seen in a long time. There were already three guys flying DLG exceptionally well when I arrived and another with an own design trainer using the path as a runway. Then the guy from last week arrived with his F15, bringing along his daughter this time. I got to launch the F15 on its first flight. Somebody was flying a drone (noisily) over by the river. My first flight of the day actually came from the guy who brought a UMX Spacewalker over on his bike. The Atom was actually my second maiden flight of the day as another guy I see a lot had a brand new Bixler. I flew his Hurricane a few months back, and he was going to fly this himself, but then we got into, “I can stand next to you while you fly if you want… can you launch it for me… why don’t I just give you the transmitter and you fly it?”. So I flew it for him, which was probably a very good thing. I noticed on the ground that there wasn’t much aileron movement and it really did need more in the air. Luckily the rudder worked OK. I had to check the rate of ascent from the launch, as it wanted to go vertical, then it was rolling left badly, so ended up putting in lots of right aileron trim. I was fairly happy with it flying more or less level by this point, but it was sluggish and really wouldn’t turn right. I was holding in full right aileron and nothing was happening. I kept increasing right aileron trim, which did help, but it needed more movement. Landing was interesting, as I lined it up to run past in front of us, I realised I needed to correct to the right, nothing happened and I elected to add power to go directly over our heads and go round again. The landing on the next circuit was perfect. The owner then added more movement, I took it up again and handed it over to him. It flew perfectly after that and he had a few more flights on his own. I was really impressed at how well it would glide. Although I called it a “Bixler” earlier, it might have been one of the other clone versions, but basically, it was a Multiplex Easy Star type.

We had two more arrivals in the form of the guy who flew the Witch drone at Halloween last year, who was flying a Mavic. The other was a guy I’ve known for ages, who usually has a Stryker, but this time had a UMX A10. He broke something on the first launch and had to tape it back together, but his one and only flight after that was very impressive. The Mavic had a go at filming my adventures with the Atom, but I think the only footage he would have got was me crashing into the grass at the side of the runway. There were at least two other people flying drones by lunchtime as well, so there was so much activity this morning I couldn’t keep track.

After messing around with the Atom almost all morning, I also had two very quick flights with my RS352, swapping LiPos and going back up without even switching off the transmitter. The time on my transmitter display shows 50 minutes this morning, most of which was with the Atom. So, just to recap, the planes I’ve flown this morning are: UMX Spacewalker, Bixler (Maiden), Atom (Maiden) and RS352.

Anyway, I’ve got about an hour of autogyro video to analyse before my next flight.

 

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First Autogyro

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I was determined to test fly the Atom autogyro this weekend and I finally managed to get everything together. I don’t know whether this is the first autogyro that’s been flown at this site, but in all the years I’ve been flying here, I’ve never seen another one. I also don’t know whether this counts as a flight, because the left wheel never actually left the ground, but this was my first attempt.

My first flight of the morning was with somebody else’s UMX Champ. Weighing only about 35 grams, this was probably a stupid idea in the steadily increasing wind, but I’ve flown it perfectly well in windy conditions before. This time, though, a gust flipped it upside down and I crashed into the ground. I was able to partially rescue it, so there wasn’t much impact and it was undamaged.

Then I put the rotors onto the autogyro and had run out of excuses for not flying it. Although, it was a close call as the wind was way above the recommended “light winds” stated in the magazine article for the first test flight (RCM&E Autumn 2015 Special). I was determined to give it a go and try running it along the ground and “hopping” when the rotors began to lift. The rational behind this is to trim the head angle, but I didn’t have much luck. I had the foresight to take a GoPro Hero 4 Session camera with me and record the flights so I could watch them back later, but I had it in the wrong mode for the first set of flights and only ended up taking stills. I really don’t like that camera, but I had lent my preferred RunCam to somebody on Thursday.

As far as the test “hops” went, the rotor would spin up fairly easily in the wind, but I’m not convinced I was getting up to full flying speed before running out of runway (for “runway”, read “patchy bit of bumpy grass”). I wasn’t able to steer effectively with the rudder and it seemed to be yawing to the right. When it did start to lift off, the left wheel seemed stuck to the ground and it wanted to roll over onto its left side. I thought this might be a head trim angle problem, so I progressively added right aileron trim, up to the point where I had 15 clicks right trim and there seemed to be no difference, even when holding right aileron while it ran along the grass. The airframe is impressively resilient though. I had it tip over on its left side numerous times and tangled up the rotor blades, but it still went home in one piece. I think that, in all the years I’ve been flying, maybe I’ve learned how to crash well?

After resting the autogyro for a bit, we then had another go with the Champ. This time it went really well, much more like I would expect, so either the wind had eased off a bit, or it was just less turbulent than before? However, while I was flying the Champ, the Atom got blown over onto its side twice, tangling up the three rotor blades again. Luckily, there was no damage, but, with its three rotors now attached, the wind was causing them to spin very fast, resulting in it tipping over. I would have said that it was at flight speed at one point, they were spinning that quickly in the wind. Seeing this happening, I brought the Champ down for an almost perfect landing and rushed over to the Atom with the transmitter still in my hand to assist the owner of the Champ who was trying to figure out how to stop the blades. This confused him completely as he missed my landing and thought his aircraft was still in the sky. Anyway, still no damage to the Atom or Champ. The RS352 tried to take off on its own as well, but it’s fairly indestructible. I’m starting to think that maybe this wasn’t the best day to test fly an autogyro?

At this point a couple of guys arrived with a chair and a drone and proceeded to sit right where I had been doing the Atom test hops before. I’m not sure where they were from, but their English wasn’t great. There was also another drone flying right up the far end of the field, ignoring us completely. This was an East European couple and their son, as the lady did come over to us later on to borrow a screwdriver to change the battery in her son’s mini drone.

OK, so having had a think about the autogyro, and with the wind lessening a bit, I had another go. This time, though, I managed to get the camera in the right mode, so I’m hoping there should be some video there for me to review later. This went the same as before, trying various directions into wind and trying to get forward speed and rotor speed for flight. Along the ground it was yawing to the right if the rotors were spinning, but tracking more straight if the head didn’t spin. The ground handling wasn’t good enough to to keep it in a straight line along the runway I was now using, which was almost directly into wind, but narrow and with stubby grass either side. I kept ending up in the grass to the right. Moving to another area didn’t really help as the aircraft would never pull its left wheel off the ground. In the end I gave up, which was very disappointing. I would have taken any sort of air under the wheels, even millimetres. So, to review, rotor spinning means yawing right on the ground and left wheel won’t unstick despite extreme right tilt and good rotor speed. I need to go away and do some research for next time.

After that I had 3 flights with the RS352, which loved the conditions on its new batteries. I had one of the older batteries (3S 1100mAh, 18 months old) in the Autogyro, which showed 50% full when analysed after the test flights. The other one I flew in the RS352, but it just didn’t have the punch of the newer cells. As I had the GoPro set up anyway, I decided to point it at a patch of sky and film myself flying the RS352. I don’t know what footage I got yet, but maybe I got something good with the wide angle lens?

While I was flying the RS352, we had another person arrive with a drone who I’ve never see before. She also wasn’t like all the other drone flyers as she knew what an autogyro was, even if she didn’t know the English word for one. My guess is that she was East European from her accent, with bright red hair and a mini drone which she had constructed from bits herself. It was a bit bigger than a 100 size (but not by much) and had tiny brushless motors and FPV. Unfortunately, she had forgotten to charge the goggles, so couldn’t fly with FPV and didn’t feel confident enough to fly with line of sight because of the orientation. She apparently files bigger drones too, but she obviously knows what she was talking about as we were discussing why neither of us would do some of the stupid things the other guys were now doing with their DJI Phantom. After that a husband and wife also turned up with a Mavic, but I had to go at this point.

That was quite an eventful day of flying, so now I’ve got to go away and do my homework on autogyros.

First Flight: Spider

The "Spider" 250 quad and my regular RS352

The “Spider” 250 quad and my regular RS352

The weather was perfect this week and I managed to successfully test my 250 size “Spider” quadcopter for the first time. I had spun the motors up indoors the night before just to make sure it had the power to hover, but this was the first test flight.

I managed to get in five flights with the quad and one with the RS352 this week, as the quad is running on 1100mAh LiPos while the RS352 uses 1300mAh ones, so I had five packs to use, plus a field charge for the final quad flight. The weather was perfect, bright and sunny with no wind and not as cold as I was expecting. As far as test flights go, this was almost perfect, with the only real problem being that the plastic legs kept falling off. There does seem to be a bit of an issue with the armed setting for the throttle though. I had reduced it a bit following the pre-flight tests, but it still spins the rotors to the extent that you occasionally had to diasarm just to keep it on the ground. It seemed a bit unpredictable though. A bigger problem might be that on the final flight I saw the right rear rotor stop, with the effect that the quad tipped over and landed upside down. Luckily I was hovering just a foot off the ground when it happened, so no damage was done. When I tried to spin the rotors up to check, this motor was refusing to run properly, so I might be looking at a new motor or speed controller, or maybe it was just the BEC cutting in for that motor? Other than that, after getting over the “it’s tiny, completely unstable, too sensitive and which way is it pointing?” phase on the first flight, I was then able to zoom it around and test out some speed runs with left and right corrections in preparation for racing through gates.

In addition to this, there were a number of other people flying this week. The French DH Beaver (white) was there, along with two younger guys who I see occasionally who were flying a small P47D when I arrived. The P47D went really well and was extremely aerobatic, so I must find out who makes it. They also had a FunJet, a profile foam aircraft and a DJI 450 quad which I was interested to see flying. Talking to him, he also ignored the instructions and put the long centre piece front to back instead of left to right as the instructions say. Watching it fly, I hope our one is as stable and controllable as his is. The last one to arrive was the guy with the FlyBaby and a Corsair. The Corsair had a problem with the rudder direction being wrong, so, with it also using a gyro stabilisation system, it couldn’t fly. Finally, after everyone but me had left, some other people turned up with a couple of small children and a white foam Cessna type trainer. They had some problems getting the throttle to work, but it appeared to have fixed itself just as I was having to leave. I saw it in the air, so it obviously got away from the ground OK.

UPDATE: It took me 2 seconds to figure out why the quadcopter motor won’t work – a motor wire has come loose, so I hope it’s just a case of soldering. I was a bit worried because I swapped the case on this motor to turn a CCW into a CW thread. In the back of my mind I was expecting a physical failure in the rear bearings, but it’s fine. Expect a post later about MT1806 motors because I’ve had no end of problems with them.

The DJI F450

The DJI F450

Spidey and the RS352

Spidey and the RS352

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